If there were a prize for career unevenness, American director Boaz Yakin would surely win it.
After his stunning debut with Fresh (1994), he took a dive with A Price Above Rubies (1998). Then he resurfaced with the formulaic but stirring sports film Remember the Titans (2000). Now he's gone under once more with the woeful Uptown Girls.
It is one thing for a movie set in some approximation of present day reality to aspire quietly to the status of a fairy tale. It is another thing altogether if that movie actually begins with the famous words, "Once upon a time ..."
Molly (Brittany Murphy) is a precocious princess of the New York social scene. She lives in a luxury apartment (her ivory tower), and rules a court of superficial partygoers and good-lookers. When her inheritance suddenly runs out, Molly must find a job. She is landed with the task of looking after Ray (Dakota Fanning), a severe eight year-old with as many parental issues as Molly herself.
From that point, the plot pretty much writes itself. Molly must learn responsibility and Ray must learn what it is to be a child. This premise is handled with far more conviction and panache in Richard Linklater's marvellous The School of Rock (2003).
Yakin and his writers gamble on finding the fairy tale ambience they require in the unreal world of pop music, its performers, producers, managers and fans. It is a gamble they lose mightily. Scenes of Molly moping over her late father's extensive collection of electric guitars are risible.
Murphy has an odd intensity around which it is hard to shape an entertaining film. Since her wonderful turn in Clueless (1995) she has stumbled through a succession of luckless roles (Don't Say a Word , Drop Dead Gorgeous ), looking for a star vehicle. In Uptown Girls it is hard to tell whether her incarnation of Molly is meant to be charming or a major pain – and the character's eventual redemption does little to ameliorate the ambiguity.
MORE Yakin: Uptown Girls
© Adrian Martin November 2003